Hindi Language Blog

Many Pasts Posted by on Feb 14, 2017 in Hindi Language, Uncategorized

नमस्ते सब लोग/Namaste sab log (Hello everyone)! I described in a previous post how to form the “simple past tense” (referring to actions completed at one time); this time, I’ll describe how to form the habitual past tense and the past perfect tense (the tense that refers to an even more distant past than the “simple past tense”).

Image by Marjolein Katsma on Flickr; the sign reads: “School chale hum/we went to school; Sab pare, sab bare/everyone studies, everyone grows; Shiksha ka adhikaar, the right to education.

Review of the Simple Past Tense

Basically, the “simple past tense” describes actions that happened once (not habitually) and are over and done with. Here are some examples:

मैंने अपना होमवर्क किया । Maine apnaa homework kiyaa. I did my homework. (I did it one time and it is finished).

आपने रात का खाना पकाया । Aapne raat ka khaanaa pakaayaa. You cooked dinner. (You cooked it once and it is finished).

तुम पिछले हफ़्ते अपने गाँव गये/गए* । Tum pichle hafte apne gaav gaye. You went to your village last week. (You went there once and the journey is over).

*These are alternate spellings of the same verb; either one is correct.

हम पिछले महीने स्कूल की अोर दौड़े । Hum pichle mahine school ki or daure. Last month, we ran toward (in the direction of) the school. (We ran to the school once and the journey is finished).

As you can see, with this tense a verb’s transitivity or intransitivity (whether or not the verb can take a direct and/or indirect object) is an important factor because it dictates how the subject of the sentence is formed (मैं/Main vs. मैंने/Maine, etc.) as well as if the verb agrees with the subject of the sentence or with the object(s).

If you’re unclear on this, please refer to the earlier post in which I described this topic.

Now, for a brief intermission so we can enjoy some tunes. Following on my Shree Char Sau Bis (श्री चार सौ बीस) theme from last time, here’s another song from the same movie. The title “मुड़ मुड़के ना देख/Don’t Look Back” seems to apply here…except, for the purposes of this lesson, you’ll have to rummage a bit in the past.


Past Perfect Tense

So, in order to form the past perfect tense, you merely have to add a past auxiliary verb (था/थे/Thaa/The, थी/थीं/Thi/Thin, which will agree with either the subject of the sentence or the object(s), depending on whether the verb is transitive or intransitive) to the above example sentences to describe an event that happened in the MORE distant past than simple past. This is often translated into English as “had”:

मैंने अपना होमवर्क किया था । Maine apnaa homework kiyaa thaa. I had done my homework. (This is taking place in a more distant past than the simple past form of the verb, किया/kiyaa, conveys on its own).

Now, let’s see what this sentence would look like with a feminine object (“homework,” which is masculine, is the object of the first sentence):

मैंने अपने घर की सफ़ाई की थी । Maine apne ghar ki safaai ki thi. I had cleaned my house. (The verb सफ़ाई करना/safaai karnaa is a conjunct verb because it includes both a noun, सफ़ाई/safaai, and a verb, करना/karnaa; when using this type of verb, the actual verb portion, in this case करना/karnaa, and the past auxiliary will agree with the gender of the noun within the conjunct verb. So, because सफ़ाई/safaai is feminine, the verbs are feminine singular: की and थी).

आपने रात का खाना पकाया था । Aapne raat ka khaanaa pakaayaa thaa. You had cooked dinner.

Now, let’s look at the feminine alternative:

आपने मिठाई पकायी/बनायी थी । Aapne mithaai pakaayi/banaayi (either one works here) thi. You had cooked/made a dessert/sweet.

तुम पिछले हफ़्ते अपने गाँव गये/गए थे । Tum pichle hafte apne gaav gaye the. You had gone to your village last week.

Now for the feminine alternative:

तुम पिछले हफ़्ते अपने गाँव गई/गयी थीं*। Tum pichle hafte apne gaav gayi thin. You had gone to your village last week.

*With a plural feminine verb, because it is difficult to say two nasalizations in a row (गईं/गयीं थीं/gain/gayin thin), you only need to place the nasalization on the final, auxiliary verb to form गई/गयी थीं (gai/gayi thin). Full disclosure: in speech nowadays, people very rarely even use the nasalized plural feminine form in the past. Most often, people would simply say तुम गई/गयी थी/Tum gai/gayi thi ।

हम पिछले महीने स्कूल की अोर दौड़े थे । Hum pichle mahine school ki or daure the. Last month, we had run toward (in the direction of) the school.

Now for the feminine form:

हम पिछले महीने स्कूल की अोर दौड़ी थीं* । Hum pichle mahine school ki or dauri thin. Last month, we had run toward (in the direction of) the school.

*Remember that, for plural pronouns such as आप लोग/aap log, तुम लोग/tum log, हम/hum, ये/ye, and वे/ve, the only time you may use the plural feminine form of the verb is when the entire group is composed of women. If it is a mixed group of men and women, you must use the plural, masculine form. At least, that’s what strict grammar teaches us…

Habitual Past Tense

The habitual past tense is for actions that occurred in the past but that are habitual or happen on a regular or semi-regular basis.

First, begin with the pronoun or the subject of the sentence:

मैं/Main (I)

तुम/Tum (you, informal)*

आप/Aap (you, formal)

हम/Hum (we)

वह/यह/Voh/Yah (he/she/it; the distinction between these two is that वह/voh refers to a subject that is farther away in terms of distance and यह/yeh refers to a subject that is close by)

वे/ये/Ve/Ye (they/it; plural)

*There is also another form of you or तू/tu. This is extremely informal and should only be used with very close loved ones, close friends or children. Because it can also be very insulting if you use it incorrectly, I will skip over this pronoun for now.

Then, choose a verb, such as बोलना/bolnaa (to speak) and add ता/ती/ते/तीं to the STEM of the verb (the part of the verb that does not include ना/naa; in this case, the stem is बोल/bol) to agree in NUMBER and GENDER with the pronoun or subject. Then, you simply add था/थे/थी/थीं (a past auxiliary verb) to the end of the sentence. Basically, the simple past tense is the same as the simple present tense but with the addition of the PAST AUXILIARY VERB or था/थे/थी/थीं:

मैं बोलता था / मैं बोलती थी / Main bolta tha/bolti thi (singular masc. and fem., respectively)

तुम बोलते थे / तुम बोलती थीं / Tum bolte the/bolti thin (तुम/tum is conceived as plural, even if you are only referring to one person)

आप बोलते थे / आप बोलती थीं/ Aap bolte the/bolti thin (Similarly, आप/aap is conceived as plural, which makes a lot of sense as, when you use आप/aap, you are referring to someone respectfully and formally; in Hindi, this is called the GRAMMATICAL PLURAL rather than the NUMERICAL PLURAL. If you wish to express a NUMERICAL PLURAL sense as well, you can say simply: आप लोग/aap log or तुम लोग/tum log).

Here are some other examples:

हम बोलते थे/ हम बोलती थीं/Hum bolte the/bolti thin 

वह/यह बोलता था/ वह/यह बोलती थी/Voh/yeh bolta tha/bolti thi (singular masculine and singular feminine, respectively)

वे/ये बोलते थे / वे/ये बोलती थीं/Ve/ye bolte the/bolti thin (plural masculine and plural feminine, respectively)

आसान है, है ना ? It’s easy, isn’t it ?

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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!